“For us, it’s not a question of asking for land. We know it’s our land. The problem is that the province figures it’s theirs and they keep issuing licenses – permits to the oil and gas industry and also to the logging industry. It’s been a long, hard struggle. They’re finding more and more oil and gas and now we’re talking tar sands.” — Lubicon Cree Chief Bernard Ominayak
For three decades the Lubicon Cree Nation has struggled to gain control of their rights and resources.
In 1971, the Alberta government dismissed the Lubicon as “mere squatters” on crown land “with no land rights to negotiate.”
It’s nonsense, of course. After all, the Lubicon have always lived in the region. It’s just that they were excluded from treaty negotiations in 1899, and only because the government didn’t know about them.
Now that ignorance is an official policy for both Alberta and the Federal government.
That policy has forced the Lubicon to live in severe poverty and to suffer from high levels of social problems and disease associated the extraction of oil and gas on their territory.
According to Amnesty International and the Friends of the Lubicon, “Alberta has allowed more than 2,000 oil and gas wells to be built on Lubicon territory, as well as 2,200 kilometres of access roads,” giving way for the removal of an estimated $14 billion worth of oil and gas. “The Lubicon have ever received a share of this wealth,” says Amnesty. Instead, the Lubicon’s traditional economy was devastated
Facing poverty for the first time, the Lubicon were also confronted with soaring levels of cancer, a tuberculosis epidemic, skin rashes so severe that they caused permanent scarring, asthma, and reproduction problems which at one point “resulted in 19 stillbirths out of 21 pregnancies in 21 months.”
With no legal protection as “Aboriginals” under the Indian Act, or, based on the government’s actions, rights as Canadian citizens under the Constitution act, the Canadian Bill of Rights, or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Lubicon are in effect a non-people. Amnesty further points out that they “don’t even receive the basic services other people in Canada take for granted, such as access to safe drinking water.”
However, the Lubicon aren’t prepared to simply disappear into what is swiftly becoming a toxic wasteland.
Instead, they want to enact their rights, rebuild their community and revitalize their economy. It’s the only way they’ll be able to live.
Such is the case with Indigenous Nations everywhere, to do so they must contend with the desperate gluttony of a government and industry that couldn’t care less about the harm they cause to get what they think they need.
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